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August 9, 2009    Publication:  The Kansas City Star

The annual Actors Equity Association evening of one-act plays by mostly Kansas City writers could have been called the Good, the Bad and the Ugly. The best of these pieces exhibit superior craftsmanship. A couple of others are interesting ideas that don t quite work. One is just a bad idea. As was the case last year, the best script in the showcase is by Ron Simonian. His satirical How Does Your Garden Grow? imagines the dawn of Biblical creation if the Garden of Eden had been a project developed by a corporation. Director Kyle Hatley puts together a terrific group of actors who deliver perfectly realized comic performances. Matt Rapport plays Eddie, a harried project manager who can t get into to see the head guy and instead has to deal with an underling, Gabe (Peter Weber). But Gabe has no clear answers to Eddie s questions about the Tree of Knowledge and other issues. A smarmy version of Lucifer (Tom Moriarty) enters the picture in a white suit and red tie and distributes general mockery as he looks for ways to mess up the utopian garden. Adam (Michelangelo Milano) complains to Eddie that he s lonely but the solution to his problem is a mercurial, angry Eve (Noelia Rothery). Simonian flings epithets as freely as David Mamet in the 80s and much of the humor is rude, crude and outrageous. But the play is a nicely calibrated piece of writing from a talented and always unpredictable writer. In a similar vein is Blue Confessions by Sean Grennan, a comedy that takes no prisoners as it delivers a skeptical view of the Catholic tradition of confession. Director William J. Christie creates a crisp bit of satire with a good cast. William Grey Warren plays a disillusioned priest who becomes so exasperated when a non-Catholic street drunk named Big Bob (Zach Woods) enters the confessional that he storms out. Big Bob takes the priest s place and begins dispensing outrageous advice to a series of confessors a slimy banker who talked people into sub-prime mortgages (Andy Perkins), a hooker (Whitney Wegman) and a New Age mystic (Briana Marxen-McCollum).The whole thing ends with a parody version of the theme song from Car Wash choreographed by Jerry Jay Cranford. The piece is anchored by Woods remarkable performance as the philosophical young boozer. Grennan, as expected, demonstrates formidable wit and arguably goes too far with invented sexual epithets that are as jarring as they are amusing. As irreverent as they are, Blue Confessions and How Does Your Garden Grow? articulate in very different ways the same basic idea: That we d all be better people if we tried to help others and stop focusing on our ridiculous egos. Kathleen Warfel delivers a haunting/funny performance in Icebox, a one-actress play written for her by Philip blue owl Hooser and directed by Jeffrey Lehr. A woman in her pajamas shuffles into the kitchen and opens the refrigerator but can t remember what she s looking for. What follows is a creative bit of wordplay as she free-associates through her consciousness in an effort to make sense of the tiny world of her kitchen. Could she be someone with Alzheimer s? Maybe. Or perhaps she s just reached a point in life where the things that once had meaning no longer do. Regardless, Warfel is most impressive .A bigger-than-life performance by James Wright as a crass movie producer energizes Chris Menown s Development, in which a hapless playwright (Cynthia Hyer) watches her work destroyed in its transfer to the screen.Menown comes up with a clever conceit by showing us a scene from the constantly rewritten screenplay between a man and a woman (Jason Curtis Miller and Christina Blodgett) who love each other but have reached an impasse. Gradually we watch the scene devolve from melodrama to something close to soft porn. Director Rick Cowan stages the play well but it s the cigar-chomping Wright blustering back and forth between Hyer and his toadie assistant (Lucas Villanueva) who provides most of the entertainment value. Where Men Lie, written by Ryan Laws and directed by Ernest Le Roy, is an elliptical mini-drama about a tense, awkward triangular relationship between a soon-to-be-estranged couple (Wright and Laurie Hamilton) and a teenage babysitter (Isabelle Scroggie). The piece is taut and grim. Frank Higgins Blondes is a drama that takes itself far too seriously as he attempts to say something exactly what remains a mystery about the role of women in the military. Set against the backdrop of the war in Iraq, the play depicts an Army investigator (Licia Watson) who wants to find out how a private (Heidi Van) was wounded and a sergeant (Antoine Williams) was killed. An ugly streak of sexism runs through this short play, in which Higgins packs a sizeable number of military drama clichés into 10 minutes. The Iraqi conflict is a real war with real casualties but here it s just a pretext for a contrived plot. The Actors Equity Showcase runs each Thursday through Sunday through Aug. 16 with a special performance scheduled Monday, Aug. 10 in Studio 116 in the University of Missouri-Kansas City Performing Arts Center. Sunday performances are at 2 p.m., all others begin at 7:30. There are no advance ticket sales. A $12 donation is suggested. Kansas City Star, The (MO) Date: August 9, 2009 Copyright (c) 2009 The Kansas City Star

How does your garden grow Actors Equity Showcase a hit and-miss collection of one-act plays: News
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